.... And All Through The House
From the Comic to the Screen by Jimmy Squarejaw
The Christmas horror story ....And All Through The House is an essential indulgence for me every holiday season. Whether I pull out the ol’ Vault of Horror comic originally released by EC Comics in early 1954, pop in the DVD for Amicus Films’ horror anthology, Tales From the Crypt, from 1972, or watch the HBO episode originally released in June 1989, it sets the mood for the special time of year when the air gets crisp, Nat King Cole is played in every store in America, and you never know if there is a six-foot-three-inch, 210 pound lunatic with shaggy black hair dressed in a Santa costume lingering outside your house. No kids it’s not drunk uncle Steve lurking in the shadows with his penis full of the coagulated semen he hasn’t used all year……it’s someone else!
If you take in all three versions of .....And All Through The House you will see each version has little nuances that make each interpretation unique and interesting enough to watch or read on their own. The original story, written and drawn by Johnny Craig appeared in the February-March 1954 issue of Vault of Horror. The misleading cover shows a woman gasping at a casket maliciously placed in front of the Christmas tree with a card dangling from it’s lid reading “Merry Christmas, To My Wife.” While taking that message in the woman seems to be otherwise oblivious to her husband standing behind her with an axe cocked back behind his head ready to swing like a steroid pumped Mark McGuire.
I guess that’s a little more scary but less practical than hanging condoms full of caviar with staples shot through the tips around my wife’s place. But that wasn’t a warning honey, that was a message god damn it!
The original print story, which is quite a bit different from the cover, is introduced by the EC ghoulunatic The Vault Keeper dressed as Santa Clause. It is about a woman who kills her husband, Joseph, with a fire poker during the holiday season. This, according to the wife’s inner monologue, was a well thought out plan to make a nice financial gain from his multiple insurance policies. What she didn’t count on was a homicidal lunatic escaping from a nearby mental hospital, stealing a Santa Clause costume, and showing up on her front step. As the hulking and mentally challenged Santa tries to make his way inside the house to get at the not so grieving widow, she has to juggle the important details like: making sure her kid Carol is asleep and doesn’t stumble upon Daddy’s corpse, trying to dispose of her husband’s body, and trying to get the homicidal humbug lurking around her property outta there!
The legendary EC artist Johnny Craig does a fantastic job creating a tense story with nail biting pace all within a well illustrated but claustrophobic holiday atmosphere in only an eight-page comic. The way he illustrates the wife in fits of anxiety reflects how well these original EC Comic Artists were without the aid of any type of cinematic storytelling and creates a story with a feverish pace that isn’t matched in any of the subsequent renditions of …..And All Through the House.
Chronologically the next installment for ….And All Through The House is the short blip featured in the beginning of the British movie Tales From the Crypt, released in 1972. This flick is an anthology in the vain of the later released Creepshow movies or the dubiously contended Tales From the Quadead Zone, and has an easily discernable narrative running through it that includes …..And All Through The House amongst other EC comic classics. A noticeable difference in this version of ……And All Through The House is what seems to be a more malicious wife, played by Joan Collins. Here the husband has a brief moment of being portrayed as jovial; he sets out a nice present for his wife with a pleasant lovey dovey handwritten card on it, lights a cigar and pours a drink before being walloped in the head with a fire poker by his wife for his insurance money. It is known in the comic that Joseph, later renamed Richard in the British movie version, was a “Mouse” of a husband and the wife’s life will be much better without him but in this version you have to draw your own conclusion about their relationship.
Another change from the comic in this version is the pinheaded killer’s description told over the radio broadcasts that warn the Mrs. about the ever-present danger. In the 1972 movie he is bald instead of having shaggy black hair and in the comic we don’t see the killer until the final panel of the story. The British version of Tales From The Crypt has the killer making multiple appearances peering through the windows and eventually trying to come through them. In my factual fuckin’ opinion, less is more and I feel the killer in the British Tales From the Crypt version of ….And All Through The House is the least effective all of the renditions. He is not menacing and he doesn’t strike a lunatic chord through my ribcage like the comic and HBO version, he just exists. The only redeeming scene is the end of the story after Joanne stumbles upon her daughter holding hands with the yuletide killer; he lunges from the child’s grip and chases Joanne to the fireplace where he strangles her viciously. In the comic we are left to determine the ending ourselves.
My personal favorite version in the dossier of …..And All Through The House is the current tale presented in the HBO episode written by Fred (Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad) Dekker and directed by Robert (Everything else I’ve done is shameful & boring fodder to appease white people who don’t need to think because they just respond) Zemeckis. This episode of the Tales From the Crypt series is a perfect compliment to the original comic. It adds a fleshed out version of the Santa costumed maniac played by Larry Drake. It adds atmospheric music by Alan Silvestri. The character of the wife, now named Elizabeth, is unbelievably well played by Mary Ellen Trainor and her end scene scream is one of the best horror movie screams of all time-truthfully. Trainor’s face was made to be exaggerated into physical representations of paranoia, joy, fear, and hysterics that the comic book initially setup with Johnny Craig’s depictions of the paranoid killer wife. The shit head husband is also a great role played by Marshall Bell. Although his part is very small, you cannot ignore his presence and the malicious treatment towards his wife in which for the first time gives a brief glimpse into why his wife killed him. With what little room Johnny Craig had to flesh out a solid story, the HBO episode had plenty of room to expound. Again in this version we see the killer numerous times during the episode, but the perfect casting of Larry Drake as the Santa Clause killer creates an amazing dynamic that the Santa killer in the1972 British version can’t hold a candle to. Larry Drake has a huge presence in the HBO episode and conveys both physical intimidation and mental insanity. There is even a slapstick element added to this episode that not only pays tribute to the dark humor of the original comics, but it also make the grim reality of the story told in ….And All Through The House even darker.
So kiddies, sit your fat ass down in your favorite easy chair, pour a bottle of Rumplemintz into a chilled glass, turn on them Christmas lights and enjoy …And All Through The House, I sure as hell have for the last 20 or so years.